If You Don't Know Why You Shouldn't Tell Women How To Dress, Talk To Cindy Bishop
In 1996 young model cindy Sirinya Bishop shot to fame when she won the Miss Thailand World beauty pageant and went on to represent the country in the main Miss World competition that year. What followed was a life in the full glare of publicity—magazine covers and newspaper spreads, frequent TV appearances, a world of fashion commitments and a place at the centre of the glittering whirl of high society. So, if anyone knows what it’s like to be the subject of relentless (and oftentimes unwanted) attention because of a willowy figure and a striking beauty, its Cindy Bishop.
Which is why during Songkran last year she felt perfectly qualified to respond via social media to a government announcement warning women not to wear revealing clothing during the festivities—and thus make themselves a target for sexual harassment by over-excited men. In essence Cindy’s grievance was that the government’s message should have been to warn men to respect women during the Songkran revels—at all times in fact—regardless of what they chose to wear. Her message was posted under the hashtags #DontTellMeHowToDress and #TellMenToRespect, and thus a movement was born.
Among its initial activities was the Don’t Tell Me How To Dress exhibition. “The first big event that we worked on was an exhibition inspired by the What Were You Wearing? exhibit at the University of Kansas’ Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Center. We displayed the clothing worn by victims during their sexual assault to get people thinking about whether the outfits really were relevant to the attacks,” Cindy explains. The exhibition was put on at Siam Paragon, the Bangkok Arts and Cultural Centre and the UN headquarters in Bangkok. This year the exhibition was moved to Seacon Square shopping mall, Woof Pack exhibition space and Thammasat, Chulalongkorn and Rajabhat universities. “It’s a roadshow really and includes a panel discussion and activities at the different venues to encourage conversation about, and greater awareness of, the issue of sexual assault.”
Cindy continues, “Regionally the campaign is also creating a buzz because it’s not a localised issue. Sexual assault is a huge problem all over Asia and indeed the world, which is why we have partnered with UN Women in Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore on the exhibitions.” Another organisation that she is working closely with is the Progressive Women and Men Foundation of Thailand. “I asked them to become advisers because they are dedicated and passionate and give me ideas for activities. The Embassy of Canada has also been a huge supporter with financial donations.”
Currently enrolled in the Rule of Law and Development (RoLD) executive programme run by Thailand’s Institute of Justice and Harvard Law School, Cindy explains that it is a six-month course that teaches how laws are made. “I need to become more informed about how we can protect women on a legal level.” The mother of daughter Leila and son Aiden, she is also actively engaged in school outreach programmes. “Essentially I’m trying to spread the word about gender equality to parents and students, combating stereotypes associated with boys and girls. But I’m still learning and figuring how to best use my voice and platform to advance the cause. But we must encourage Thai parents to teach their children about respect, responsibility and consent. We have to break free of this idea of toxic masculinity, that boys have to be tough and not show emotion while girls have to be meek and modest in everything.”
(See also: The Real Cherry Khemupsorn Beneath The Surface Of Her Commercial Fame)